Written by Katie Ishizaka
Did you know?
1. Misdemeanors account for about 80 percent of American criminal cases.
2. In court, even if they do not have any evidence against you to find you guilty, all but a handful of misdemeanor cases are resolved by plea deals. People often call this “punishment without crime”, or “innocence is a misdemeanor.”
3. More than 640,000 people are released from state and federal prisons each year and over 70 million Americans who have a criminal record face significant barriers to housing, employment, and education.
4. The unemployment rate for people who have been incarcerated is nearly five times higher than the unemployment rate for the general United States population.
5. Women who have been incarcerated face greater challenges securing employment than men who are formerly incarcerated.
Neither did I before starting my journey with Labyrinth Made Goods as their digital marketing intern.
Like most of society, I had been blissfully ignorant about the discrimination and unjust treatment of those who have experienced incarceration. The challenges they face are often overlooked or ignored by the majority.
With the help of the brilliant women behind Labyrinth Made Goods and those who have participated in the apprenticeship programs offered, I have had the honor and privilege of broadening my knowledge by learning from and listening to the stories and experiences they share. The power behind their determination to change the narrative of those who have experienced incarceration has changed my life and so many others.
These women are the leaders of change who will guide us into building a society where we will no longer judge someone for their past actions but by their present ones.
Society has built this preconceived notion that people who have experienced incarceration are bad citizens, or bad people altogether, and do not deserve the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
Together, we can change that way of thinking.
And the best step toward making that change is by actively listening to the stories of those who have experienced incarceration. Only by listening to their stories and taking a moment to understand how we as a society might have failed them, especially regarding intersectional oppression in the Criminal Justice System, can we make the changes we need to fight systemic discrimination.
Everyone has a story, and one can learn so much about someone and the challenges they have faced by just listening. One might learn that the people they label as criminals are not what they expect. They have so much more to offer to society than a criminal record.
We as a society need to stop being so afraid of having those “uncomfortable” conversations and listen to the stories of those who live different lives than us. It is part of this journey of listening to the stories of others, where we can finally take steps closer to truly understanding one another. Once we take that one step, the others will hopefully follow, and we will become so much closer to ending the cycle of incarceration.
Those who have experienced incarceration should have the opportunity to change and prove, not only to society but to themselves that they are capable of living a better life without having to face so many obstacles that society places in front of them.
We need to look past this idea that if one group gains more rights and opportunities to prosper in society, then it will take away rights and opportunities from others. This mentality will be our downfall as a society if it continues. By giving those who have experienced incarceration the tools they need to succeed, our society as a whole will also succeed and prosper.
Through my time with Labyrinth Made Goods, I have grown to like the analogy of a rock being thrown into a river. When you throw a rock into a river, it pushes the water out of the way, making a ripple that moves away from where it landed.
Labyrinth Made Goods and the work they do, is the rock. Their work of amplifying the voices of those who have experienced incarceration and giving them a fighting chance in society pushes against the discrimination and barriers society puts in front of them. And the ripples are those that we help, growing and moving past the barriers toward a better life.
If I had not been given the opportunity to work with Labyrinth Made Goods, I don’t know if I would have the knowledge I do now. With this knowledge that I now hold, and the stories engraved in my heart, I will continue to help pave the way for more ripples to be made and barriers to be torn down. The world is ever-changing, and it is our goal that the steps we make will change the world for the better.